Bagenalstown Gaels 2-13
Mount Leinster Rangers 3-10
By John Foley
A LATE, late Jake Doyle free earned Bagenalstown Gaels a draw in Sunday’s minor hurling championship final at Netwatch Cullen Park. The corner-forward’s strike ensured both sides lived to fight another day after a hugely enjoyable and competitive clash between last year’s champions – Muinebheag – and the perennial contenders from the south of the county.
As the game pushed into the final minutes it looked as if Rangers had made the decisive move for the finish line with two Evan Kealy frees in the 54th and 56th minutes edging them clear. But Bagenalstown, who missed quite a few scoring chances over the course of the game, kicked back in the closing straight and two frees from Doyle, the last in injury time, saved their bacon.
The first half ebbed and flowed and once the two sets of players settled into their surroundings, the scores flowed too.
Rangers tapped over a couple of early points with Donagh Murphy an early threat. But it was Bagenalstown who drew first blood with a great goal seven minutes in. Patrick McDonnell caught a fine ball in the middle of the field and fed Jake Doyle who shot at goal. Rangers keeper Ciaran Joyce got a hurl to it, but Billy Fitzpatrick followed in to finish the sliotar to the net.
We didn’t have to wait long for the game’s second goal and it came at the other end where Donagh Murphy gathered a long delivery, turned and found the net to make it 1-2 to 1-0.
Rangers were getting on top around the middle and feeding their forwards, but Bagenalstown were tenacious in defence with Shane Coady showing some lovely skill.
On the quarter-hour mark, Gaels came back into the game with their second goal. This time, Jake Doyle took a pass 20 metres from goal and shot through a packed defence to the bottom corner. Again Rangers responded and this time it was sub Declan Brennan, only on the pitch less than a minute, who finished off a fine move with a well-struck goal to make it 2-2 to 2-0.
But Gaels battled away and with intelligent deliveries into their forwards they continued to create scoring opportunities.
Indeed, in the space of three minutes they stroked over three fine points. The first an inspirational score from distance by captain Niall Bolger, the second from Jason Wall who emerged from a thicket of players to fire over the bar, and the third from Jake Doyle who weaved his way through the Rangers defence with the sliotar stuck to his hurl.
But Rangers were quick to go for the jugular once again and it was Donagh Murphy who proved to be the outlet, collecting a long ball, turning into space and shooting low past Stephen Lillis in the Gaels goal. Two more quick Rangers points put them 3-2 to 2-3 ahead and then it was the turn of their defence to work hard with Michael Joyce denying Bagenalstown’s Jason Wall a big goal chance with a last-ditch tackle.
Jack McCullagh drove into open country in midfield to score Bagenalstown’s last point of the half to make it 3-4 to 2-5 to Rangers at half time.
The rate of scoring slowed somewhat after the break with both sets of defences tightening up after their respective half-time team talks.
Rangers were turning a fair amount of possession in their direction but Stephen Lillis came to Bagenalstown’s rescue in goals on more than one occasion.
Jake Doyle and Evan Kealy kept the scoreboard ticking over with frees and two points for Gaels in the ninth and tenth minute of the second half, the second a great strike from underneath the stand by Jack McCullagh, made it all square – Bagenalstown Gaels 2-9, MLR 3-6 – with 20 minutes still to play.
It was tit-for tat from then on but Gaels will feel they should probably have kicked on in this period. They enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the middle of the half but proved more wasteful in front of the posts. You sensed that if Rangers were still in the game with five minutes to go, they might have a sting in the tail.
Donagh Murphy for Rangers and Jake Doyle for Gaels traded classy scores and they stayed level up until the last five minutes when Rangers made a move for home. The Bagenalstown defence had tacked excellently throughout but Rangers finally worked a couple of frees which Kealy happily stroked over.
However, Bagenalstown, attempting a rare minor football and hurling double, didn’t throw in the towel. Jake Doyle slotted a free and as one minute’s injury time was announced, a long delivery into the Rangers defence was well gathered by a Gaels forward who was fouled just outside the square. Doyle happily accepted the opportunity to level the game – bringing his tally to 1-8 for the day – and the final whistle sounded.
Few in the ground could argue that a draw was not a fair result. They do it all again next weekend.
Bagenalstown Gaels: Stephen Lillis; Sean Wall, Eoin Hickey, Shane Coady; Niall Bolger (0-1), Darragh Nolan, James Farrell; Jack McCullagh (0-2), Michael Mullins; Jason Wall (0-2), Patrick McDonnell, Oisin Dillon; Shane Cowman, Billy Fitzpatrick (1-0), Jake Doyle (1-8, 0-6 frees). Subs: Eoin Doyle for S Cowman (half time)
Mount Leinster Rangers: Ciaran Joyce; Fionn Murphy, Michael joyce, Aidan O’Loughlin; Sean Joyce, Fiachra Fitzpatrick, Luke Kavanagh; Robert Stafford, Ciarain Kavanagh; Donagh Murphy (2-2), Tadhg Doran, Evan Kealy (0-6, 0-5 frees); Ben Bolger, Joe Dundon, James Bible. Subs: Declan Brennan (1-2) for B Bolger (16 mins), Brad Bolger for F Fitzpatrick (49 mins).
Referee: Jonathan Murphy (St Mullins)